A hospital bed, upstage center and in your face, bodes ill for the entertainment value of Kirk Marcoe's play about a family in extremis. But what you see is what you get: Dad is dying. Mom is hysterical. Son is in rebellion. People talk, but to no purpose or point. To say that "I See Fire in the Dead Man's Eye" is dull would be an understatement.

A hospital bed, upstage center and in your face, bodes ill for the entertainment value of Kirk Marcoe’s lugubrious play about a family in extremis. But what you see is what you get: Dad is dying. Mom is hysterical. Son is in rebellion. Even the housekeeper is on edge. People talk, but to no purpose or point, and when even those inadequate words fail, they throw themselves to the floor and take naps. Sex is had and a barn burns down, but these actions take place offstage. To say that “I See Fire in the Dead Man’s Eye” is dull would be an understatement.

Shorn of its affected attempts at a surrealist style (sand in the living room?) and pretentious symbolism (a cleansing fire destroys dad’s boat and barn), play is a conventional domestic drama about a family going through a real rough time. But instead of opening up about the pain of watching a loved one die, Kirk Marcoe tries to make a theatrical virtue of the family’s inability to communicate.

Acting as his own director (will these scribes never learn?), Marcoe avoids direct confrontation and, in fact, encourages the characters’ evasive rituals for acting out.

It’s not enough that Bob Wright (David Chandler, gleefully overacting) is in the last, helpless stage of some nameless disease; the character must also be mute — an overdone metaphor for a macho guy who keeps his feelings locked up. His anxious wife, Alice (annoying as hell in Jennifer Van Dyck’s monotone), not only talks nonstop to escape her fears, she actually talks about her talking. (“Am I driving you crazy?” she has the nerve to ask.)

In the same spirit of overkill, son Timothy (Matthew Stadelmann, adopting a generic slouch and sneer to play generic youth) expresses his raging rebellion by seducing not one but two local girls.

Only Cherene Snow, as the housekeeper with plenty of nervous tics of her own, manages to keep her sense of balance in this crazy household.

Marcoe’s attempts to disguise the sad but essentially banal content of his play with a patina of offbeat weirdness is not, however, the drama’s major problem, which reveals itself when everyone stops dancing around and actually gets out a few coherent sentences. The feelings they’ve been guarding are so shallow, and their language so pedestrian, it seems only fair that they should want to throw themselves to the floor.

I See Fire in the Dead Man's Eye

Clurman; 99 seats; $35

Production

A Grass Arena presentation of a play in one act, written and directed by Kirk Marcoe.

Creative

Sets, Takeshi Kata; costumes, Tina Nigro; lighting, Matthew Richards; sound, Jeremy J. Lee; production stage manager, Terri K. Kohler. Opened Feb. 1, 2005. Reviewed Jan. 27. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast

Bob Wright - David Chandler Timothy Wright - Matthew Stadelmann Alice Wright - Jennifer Van Dyck Minerva Smith - Cherene Snow Bertha Smith - Tamara Bass Vicky Perez - Jessma Evans
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